2015 Villain: Police Accountability
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2015 Villain: Police Accountability

Nominated for: undermining public confidence in policing and justice.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Police Accountability by Dasha Zolota

Police accountability took a serious hit in 2015, both south of the border and at home. That Toronto managed to stand out is not something to be proud of.

Which makes the aftermath of the 2010 G20 summit even more depressingly appropriate. Despite the deplorable conduct towards demonstrators, journalists, and bystanders at the summit, five years later there’s a stunning lack of consequences. The beating of Adam Nobody, the kettling blockade of 250 people for hours outdoors during a downpour, and the mass arrests of peaceful protestors sparked a public outcry for inquiry, for trials, for something. The end result has been less than encouraging: few charges, few convictions, with one of the most severe penalties being a temporary demotion.

When even beating a demonstrator merits little more than probation and community service, what hope is there for a change in police behaviour or organizational culture? The lone commanding officer to see a conviction over the mess, Supt. David (Mark) Felton, isn’t even going to get a sentencing hearing until April.

The tragic death of Sammy Yatim in 2013 and ongoing trial of Const. James Forcillo, who shot him, lead to another round of pledges for reviews and inquiries. The former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, Alok Muhkherjee, recently came forward to call out those promises as unfulfilled and meaningless. Santokh Bola’s recent assault by Toronto police officers during a mistaken arrestfurther challenges the notion that we can expect change for the better.

It’s difficult to put any one face on the villain here. There are rank and file officers trained into a culture that encourages a sense of embattled threat over de-escalation and empathy. There are the commanding officers whose efforts towards any reform seems slow on a good day. And, of course, there are the courts, which demonstrate a baffling reluctance to level strong penalties for police misconduct. Finally there’s us, the people of Toronto. We might be the screaming face of outrage one day, but the next we go ahead and elect Bill Blair to parliament. When we fill an MP’s seat with the former chief under whose watch much of this despairing state of affairs exploded into being, how much accountability are we saying we really want?